Having just returned from the Czech Republic where she earned a silver medal for South Africa in the World Masters Powerlifting Championships (40-49 yrs) Under-52kg bodyweight class, Sinclair is a woman who practices what she preaches.

Dr Miriam Sinclair
With a professional focus on performance enhancement, training status and the many physiological factors (including heart rate) that play a role in improving performance, Sinclair is regularly involved in monitoring the progress of elite athletes.

One of her current projects is involved in developing video game analysis for Super 14 rugby, and she boasts a broad background in a variety of sporting codes, having competed in hockey, soccer (provincial), rugby, karate, squash, badminton and rowing.

In this extensive interview, Sinclair addresses the beneficial impact of a physical exercise on a woman’s lifestyle, and considers the impact of fairness in sport, subjectively from a woman’s perspective.

Is there evidence to suggest that participation in sport is associated with a heightened quality of life?

Scientific research conducted over many years have concluded that there are definite physical and psychological benefits to be gained from a regular moderate exercise regime and that quality of life is enhanced as a result thereof. These benefits pertain to both male and female of all ages.

In a recent study by Wolin et al (2007), 63,152 women between the ages of 40 and 67 years completed a physical activity / quality of life dimensions questionnaire and were subsequently regularly followed up over the next ten years.

They found that women who increased their physical activity level somewhat reported higher quality of life scores compared to the women whose activity levels remained the same. They concluded that long term physical activity is a crucial factor in determining health-related quality of life.

In another study by Brand et al (2006), 110 employees, both male and female were given a training programme over a 13 week period. Psychological, physical and quality of health indicators were positively correlated with training. However, the higher psychological scores only persisted in those employees who kept on training.

Research conducted by Wilmore and Costill (1984) suggest that women may gain as much as 20 – 40 % in strength from resistance training and that cardio-respiratory improvements may be as much as 10 – 40 % with aerobic type training. When translated into enhanced quality of life, these gains are immeasurable in everyday life. Apart from the decreased risk of injury and disease, the pleasure is to be found in the ease and energy with which everyday life activities can be performed.

Miriam Sinclair powerlifting in competition

As an athlete, and following your professional observations of women
in sport, what are the key benefits associated with sport and physical

The key benefits of exercise of sport and exercise for women may be
found on a physical, psychological / emotional and social level.

Physical: There is a definite decreased risk of injury and
disease in physically active women. More specifically, active women are
less prone to cardiac diseases, hypertension, obesity, diabetes,
hypercholesterolaemia and osteoporosis. There is some evidence to
suggest that physical activity will attenuate hormonal fluctuations
normally experienced by women.

Psychological / emotional: Sporty and physically active women
usually have more physical and mental energy. These women tend to be
more goal orientated, have more self discipline, learn to push
themselves a bit harder, tolerate stress better and have a higher level
of self worth and self esteem. They appear more confident generally.
This may stem from an improved mental outlook on life combined with a
more acceptable (to themselves) physical appearance.

Social: Sports women generally have an expanded social circle of
friends and thus may have more support structures in times of stress.
They tend to present less with antisocial behaviour as the very tenets
of sport espouse values of discipline, hard work, pride, sharing, team
work and an increased sense of fair play. Win graciously, lose

Does a lifestyle choice of physical activity  demonstrate a correlation with a positive disposition?

Physically active women in general tend to be more extrovert and positive in nature and suffer less from depression. There is thus a direct correlation between a positive personality and participation in sport.

Whilst it is true that not all sports women are extroverts in nature, introverts may gain just as much from participating in sport although they may tend to gravitate towards more solitary type of sports.

Girl Playing Softball

Will a physically active woman have increased opportunities to develop leadership skills?

Physically active women may not necessarily have more opportunities to
be in a leadership position, but the skills and lessons learned from
sport participation will increase their ability to recognize, take
advantage or develop their own leadership skills.

Increased energy and self esteem may encourage many women to step
forward to take leadership in other areas of their lives. Once you have
captained a sports team, captaining someone or something else may seem
far less daunting.

Are women any less entitled to participation in sport than their male counterparts?

Women are certainly equally entitled to men to participate in sport,
not even taking into consideration the principle of human rights and
equality for all.

Women are physically and mentally just as able as men to participate in
sport and stand to benefit just as much, if not more from participating
in sport.

Women may play sport differently, due to anatomical and physiological differences, but this should not preclude women from participating.

Is there a trend towards rewarding top men and women athletes equally, when considering prize-money?

The question of equal monetary reward for sports women and men is still a much debated and sensitive issue. Too often women are given inferior rewards compared to the men, especially at a local (club) level.

At an International competitive level the trend seems to be changing, albeit slowly. At Wimbledon, the women tennis players this year, for the first time, earned the same as their male counterparts. Women golfers still earn less than the men.

The question of whether equal pay is warranted is an unequivable yes! Women certainly compete differently in sport but definitely not inferiorly.

It would be interesting to see to what level sports women would or could improve given similar financial backing and other support systems so often available to men.

Are women any better- or less suited to participate as coaches, officials or administrator of sport?

Women may not be as physical and strong but this often forces women to play more tactically to compensate and this often leads to a more attractive type of game being played.

The differences in level of play between men and women may be less obvious in certain sports and especially at an elite level. It is difficult to state categorically whether men or women are better suited to being a coach, official or administrators in sport. Individuals have their own particular strong points regardless of their gender.

It is still certainly the case in South Africa that women are often relegated to being administrators in inferior positions within sporting organizations and at local clubs. The chairperson is often male with the secretary being female, as women are generally seen as being stronger administratively and too often viewed as willing workhorses.

Girl playing soccer

Women are also still largely excluded from coaching historically male
dominated sporting codes. It is certainly true that a coach would
benefit from having played a particular sport – having "inside
information" so to speak, but it is also true that some women may be
better at analyzing and reading a game.

Having played a particular sport does not necessarily equate to being a
good coach! Men will also more readily confront a female official
regarding rules or unfavourable decisions.

Considering the historical imbalances in nurturing female athletes
(contrasted with male athletes), what are the most important aspects to
address, and how best can enhanced female participation be encouraged?

[This question] is a vast subject on its own, with many aspects to consider and many preconceived ideas and notions to dispel.

There are several key issues that need to be addressed if one is to
change this imbalance. Some of the perceptions may take decades to
change as it is still linked to the very fabric of society as we know
it – being male dominated.

Sports women should be aware that men are not going to change easily as
they have a vested interest (power and financial) in keeping the status
quo. There may be a slow gradual change now that more women are elected
to higher office, but for most women this will take too long and be too

Women are still sadly reluctant to support other women, as we were not
raised with the same concept of brotherhood that men have.

The whole imbalance is linked to the myth that women are the weaker sex, shouldn’t play sport as it is bad and unfeminine and only tomboys play sport.

This perception is often perpetuated by women themselves and herein lies the big tragedy ! Women are in the supreme position to be able to influence and shape their children’s behaviour and perceptions from a young age.

Too often they themselves have double standards as regards to what is acceptable from male and female children in everyday life and this extends to the sports field itself.

Apathy from women themselves is the other danger. Too often we accept the lower prize money, the limited opportunities, the degrading remarks about sports women and the non-support from spouses.

We demean our own sporting ambitions and accomplishments. We are afraid to question, to confront, to make waves lest it is seen as being aggressive and unfeminine.

Mothers go crazy to help their little boys go on the rugby tour but the girls hockey tour gets scant attention. Females fill the pavilions at sporting events, thus contributing hugely to the financial success of male sports, but how many males (or females) make the effort to support female sports. Just look around you next time you attend a women’s sporting event.

How do we address this problem? This is a multi-factorial issue that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way:
  • Change perceptions and attitudes – parenting / double standards/apathy.
  • Media – coverage of women sport and the portrayal of women as sex objects rather than bona fide sports persons. We need strong female sporting role models- not thin little (sexy) rakes that have never seen the inside of a gym and could not recognize food if they saw it.
  • Availability of sports facilities, training, education and information.
  • Schools need to encourage mass participation, especially for girls.
  • Financial support.

This list is by no means comprehensive but we need to start today.

Girls jumps in the air

1. Brand, R., Schlicht, W., Grossman, K. and Duhnsen, R. Effects of a physical exercise intervention on employees’ perceptions quality of life: a randomized controlled trial. Soz Praventivmed. (2006), 51 (1):14 -23.
2. Wolin, K.Y., Glynn, R.J., Colditz, G.A., Lee, I.M. and Kawachi, I. Long-term physical activity patterns and health-related quality of life in U.S. women. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. (2007), Jun; 32 (6): 490 – 499.
3. Wilmore, J.H. and Costill, D.L. (1994). (Editors) Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Human Kinetics, Champaign, illinois, USA.